“Can I get you anything to drink? A diet soda, maybe?” he offered.

“‘Diet soda, maybe?’ What are you, a waiter in training? Get me a Coke if you’ve got one,” she said brusquely, settling down into the incredibly comfortable, overstuffed leather couch. Too bad this wasn’t the house of any other person in the universe. Even Ellen’s. Movie night would have almost been fun.

She didn’t hear Ezra leave or come back. He proffered her a can of Coke and a glass of ice—on a tray—then sat down. Right next to her. Almost on top of her.

“Um,” she said, using her best glare.

Ezra happily ignored her, picking up an incredibly sleek and shiny black remote. A veritable stealth plane of a remote. “What you are about to see is what some may consider the absolute pinnacle of human artistic achievement, the peak of cinematic experiences.”

“I’ve seen Star Wars,” she snapped, sliding over and putting her purse in between them.

“Yes, but have you really watched it?” Ezra asked dramatically. A couple of clicks on the remote lowered the lights even more and turned the great glowing box on. There was a pause as the DVD booted up, and the darkness was complete.

A muffled creaking of leather indicated movement on the couch.

“Touch me and I’ll kick your ass,” Montgomery warned. “And then I’ll have Ryan kick your ass, and then everyone else on the football team kick your ass, and then Eddie the towel boy kick your ass.”

(Eddie was an enthusiastic nine-year-old with autism who always wore a Steelers football helmet that the cheerleaders had pitched in to get him—he even wore it to sleep.)

But then the movie music came on, and everything changed.

He completely ignored her!

The cheerleader watched Ezra curiously. His eyes grew extra wide, drinking in every second of screen action. His breathing slowed (easy to tell; his mouth was open most of the time). His lips moved a little when people spoke. At mysteriously critical moments he would choose to pause the action and explain to her—eyes still on the screen—why this line was important, or what this meant in terms of character development, or how this was inspired directly from basic human archetypes à la Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces.

Most of the time, he didn’t even look at her.

It was kind of weird.

There they were, in a dark room, sitting on a couch together, all alone…but when the screen was on, she might as well not have been there at all.

Of course, during the inevitable pee or phone break, everything changed. He accidentally rubbed up against her when sitting down or getting up, and reached directly across her chest for the popcorn—until she wordlessly dumped the entire bucket into his lap.


“Um. So this might be easy for you to start with. Ranma 1/2. It’s a classic,” David said, handing her a bootleg DVD.

They were sitting on a bench outside the local comic shop. He had just taken her on a tour of the store, which she genuinely appreciated. It was almost like a shopping spree. She walked out with Batman: The Killing Joke; Sandman: Dream Country; X-Men Visionaries: Chris Claremont; and an action figure she thought was “kind of cute” and “might look good on my dashboard.” David hadn’t laughed at her; he had merely smiled.

Too bad he was so overweight. With his shy little smile—and maybe a slightly cleaner red T-shirt—he would have been almost cute.

A haircut wouldn’t have hurt, either.

“And, um, this is Negima. It’s a good intro to manga. Very popular. Um, there’s a little weirdness, with girls—it’s called ‘fan service,’ but it’s pretty light compared to other ones. We’ll start reading it together—I know that totally sounds retarded, but Japanese comics read a lot different from American ones. Like, you start on this side of the book.” He turned it to show her how it opened from the back.

“I’m sorry if this is totally rude,” the cheerleader said as politely as she could, “but are you interested in this because of your background?”

“Um, my grandparents are from Singapore. Not, uh, Japan. I just like it…’cause, you know, it’s like comics. But they can be about anything. Mythology or history or regular life—but with art, you know? It’s not words with pictures. It’s art. It’s a whole different way of…experiencing a book.”

“Hmm,” Montgomery said, swinging her legs on the bench, thinking about it.

Susan walked by with a couple of football players. With her long black hair and dark eyes, she was the perfect cheerleadery complement to Montgomery. Of course they had been friends forever.

The three waved and gave her a questioning look, pointing at David behind his back. Montgomery shrugged. Susan said something and the two other boys laughed. Meanly.

David turned to look.

“Oh, friends of yours,” he said, more of a statement than a question. “You want to take off?”

“No,” she said, a little sadly. The answer was yes; they were probably meeting Ryan at Café Not-Tea, to gossip and talk and have general fun. Not read comic books.

But Locacon was coming up.

She steeled her shoulders.

“Okay. So it reads backwards. What else?”


“But Rings is an epic movie; it falls under my jurisdiction!” Ezra whined.

Mica shrugged. “I would argue that movies not based on a book fall under your jurisdiction. High fantasy literature is clearly mine. Besides, according to the schedule, you’ve sort of…um…monopolized most of the classes this week,” he pointed out, tapping at the Montgomery Calendar they had taped to the door of the media center.

“He’s got a point,” David said, nose buried in Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. Just a refresher; he was going to talk the cheerleader through it next week.

The student in question walked in as the two boys began to shout at each other. Ellen frowned into her book, trying to shut everyone out.

“What’s up with them?” Montgomery asked. She didn’t think members of Team Geek ever had anything to fight about.

Ellen made a face. “They’re arguing about who gets to watch The Fellowship of the Ring. With you,” she added a little spitefully.

“I am not spending another evening with Ezra,” the other girl insisted. “Not alone.”

Ellen’s look changed, becoming something like understanding. “I don’t blame you,” she agreed.


Hanging out with Mica in his bedroom fell somewhere between David-on-a-bench and Ezra-in-his-gigantoid-living-room. While it was weird to be by herself with this boy, it didn’t necessarily reek of danger. In fact, she was impressed that it didn’t really reek much of anything, except for maybe the slight musty scent of hundreds of paperbacks that lined the walls. A small TV sat on a wooden crate in a corner; the home-theater experience was completed by a neatly folded Mexican blanket on the floor and a child’s stool (it said ‘Mica’ in big bright hand-painted letters).

Tall, short, and occasionally pretty people droned nonsense on the tiny screen. Montgomery found herself losing interest almost immediately.

“Hang on, this is an important bit,” Mica said, with the tiniest bit of an affected British accent. But he did it without thinking, so it was almost excusable.

“What? They going to get on miniature ponies and ride off into the sunset?” the cheerleader asked, pulling out a book and blowing dust off it.

“No, they’re—come on, this is serious.” He didn’t turn his head from the TV, his lips slightly parted around his surprisingly cute, slightly bucky front teeth. His dirty blond hair was tousled into his eyes—but unlike she’d assumed, it wasn’t actually dirty. It might even have had some gel or something in it.

“This is no mere ranger. He is Aragorn, son of Arathorn. You owe him your allegiance….”

The serious one, blondie with the ears, the elf, was getting all self-important. She remembered that from the first time her boyfriend made her watch it. It would continue like this for the next two movies.

“Ugh, would you listen to them?” Montgomery sighed, rolling her eyes and shoving the book back onto the shelf. It had looked intriguing at first, but none of the characters mentioned on the back had any vowels in their names; only a lot of ws and ys and far too many double ls. “It’s ridiculous the way they talk!”

“It’s supposed to be epic and therefore archaic,” Mica explained patiently. But there was an edge to his voice. “Like…well, you take French. Think of the formality of their speech like vouvoiement versus tutoiement.”

“I didn’t know you took French,” Montgomery said, impressed. “Wait, you’re not in my or Shaniqa’s class….”

“I take French Five with the seniors,” the boy said dismissively. Not bragging. Like he wanted to get over it and back to the subject at hand. He pressed play. “Anyway, think of it as trying to sound like an English version of romantic, archaic French.”

“It sounds retarded,” she said tartly.

“Montgomery.” Mica was the very picture of barely controlled exasperation. “Not only are you paying us to show things like this to you and explain them to you, but this—this movie, is one of my Favorite. Things. In. The. World. If you don’t like it, could you at least keep the comments to yourself? How would you like it if I made fun of…”

He paused. He could have suggested any one of a thousand nasty things, from nighttime soaps to the worst sort of trashy romances.

But he didn’t.

“…whatever it is you like?”

They locked eyes for a moment. She bit her lip.

Whenever it was her turn to watch something she liked, Ryan wouldn’t stop making awful comments. Like the reality show where young designers had to sew things quickly. She didn’t even bother trying to watch it with him anymore. Hence the noir after noir after noir…